I recently learned a totally amazing word. “Vellichor” was invented by John Koenig to mean “the strange wistfulness of used bookstores, which are somehow infused with the passage of time…” I am sure many of you have experienced this even if you didn’t have the word for it. I have been away from the United States for a year now, I am definitely in used bookstore withdrawal. I miss going on my little treasure hunts for science fiction and fantasy books, and of course, Steampunk books in particular. It seems an especially apt word for today’s review of a book that is also focused on the passage of time (or in fact, times).
I managed to pick up a yellowing copy of The Warlord of the Air just before I left America, and I have been carting it around from country to country. I finally got a chance to read it on a long day of travel as I was leaving Sofia, Bulgaria and it was well worth the wait. This is the first in Michael Moorcock’s A Nomad of the Time Streams trilogy, which were published between 1971 and 1981.
The tale is framed as a story that was told to Moorcock’s fictional grandfather of the same name, who recorded Bastable’s adventure while on holiday on a tiny island in 1903. He sees Bastable for the first time when he is forcibly ejected from a ship where he had stowed away, and is left to fend for himself. As much out of boredom as charity, “Moorcock Sr.” takes the stranger under his wing and invites him to come back to his hotel for a meal. After some coaxing, Bastable starts to tell him about his life, and they end up locked in the room for three days while the story is recorded.
At the outset, Bastable is on a peace-keeping mission for the British army in 1902. He and a few other officers are invited into the sacred city of Teku Banga to negotiate with the king who reigned over this millennia-old society. They are led into the labyrinthine Palace of the Future Buddha and drugged by their host. When Bastable realizes the trick, and the others flee the chamber where they are eating with the king, and soon become lost in the tunnels under the palace. Something happens to him in the pitch-blackness and he loses consciousness.
When he awakes, he simply believes that there has been an earthquake, but the truth is far stranger than he could have imagined. The city around him lies in ruins, but this is old destruction and his clothes hang off him in aged tatters. Eventually, he finds out that he was been somehow transported to the year 1973, but no 1973 that you or I might recognize. The British Empire has continued to grow and flourish in the absence of WWI, spreading “civilization” throughout the globe. But as Bastable finds after joining the Airship police, the peace is only surface-deep and in many places terrorists and rebels are trying to throw off the yolk of oppression.
Alternate histories are some of my absolute favorite stories to read, and this one did not disappoint. It was fairly short, but also very insightful, which is an excellent combination. Moorcock has a unique perspective on history, both real and invented, and I definitely recommend that you give his work a try. I recently started reading a new compilation of short stories called The Time Traveler’s Almanac, and I was also thoroughly delighted by Moorcock’s Pale Roses. I look forward to getting back to the States in a few months, where I can resume my hunt for the rest of Moorcock’s books in the series.
Have you ever read anything by Moorcock? What did you think?
One of my all time favorite literary characters is Professor Challenger, who I’m afraid is forever doomed to be overshined by Conan Doyle’s better known protagonist, Sherlock Holmes. Challenger is every bit as smart as Sherlock, but is both more pompous and more energetic than the great detective, and I find myself laughing out loud at his over-the-top confidence and sharp wit on a regular basis while reading.
The Poison belt came out in 1913, and centers on the same cadre of adventurers from the first book. They are having a reunion at Challenger’s country home a few years after their great discovery of the The Lost World. Unfortunately, what is meant to be a lovely weekend is interrupted by nothing less than the end of the world as we know it. It begins with what appears to be an infectios disease, but Professor Challenger riddles out the truth, that aether is to blame.
The prevailing theories during the “steam era” about the medium that makes up our universe all centered on aether. It fills those empty spaces between everything, and influences the effects of light and gravity. During the story our planet passes through a belt of this mysterious substance that is totally antithetical to animal life, and there is no telling how long we will be subject to the effects of the this poison belt. Our heroes watch as one by one the people in the fields, the birds in the sky and the horses pulling carriages all drift into their final rest, while they attempt to prolong their own lives for a few precious hours within an oxegenated environment.
I don’t usually like to give away the endings or twists in the books I review, but it is evident that the human race must somehow survive considering the reader is in fact both human and alive, but while reading the protagonists see no means of escape and spend much of their time reflecting on the meaning of life and human beings’ place in the universe. This may seem a depressing subject matter, but Conan Doyle does a good job of keeping the meloncholy in check and balancing it with the banter of the characters and the giddiness that comes from the aether entering one’s system.
It’s a nice, short little book which is widely available for free download because it is no longer in copyright. The Mister and I read it in a matter of hours and we both really enjoyed it. I can’t wait to read the next Challenger title, The Land of Mist.
I ran across this book promo for piece by G. D. Falksen the other day and I am definitely intrigued. The third installment came out in 2015.
Have you ever read anything by this author?
- Charles Robert Darwin was born in 1809 in Shropshire, England. He was the fifth born of Robert and Susanna Darwin’s six children. Both his paternal and maternal grandfathers, Erasmus Darwin and Josiah Wedgewood, respectively, were famous for their abolitionist activities at the end of the 19th century.
- He studied medicine at the University of Edinburgh but became fascinated by the non-human world of biological studies. His first animal kingdom of choice to study in detail was marine invertebrates, but he also learned taxidermy from a freed slave named John Edmonstone in his early days at University.
- Darwin was first introduced to the concept of evolution during his tenure with the Plinian Society, a club devoted to natural history at the University of Edinburgh. Darwin became deeply involved after his appointment in 1826, and was later elected to the council.
- He worked for some time at the University museum classifying plants before his neglect of his medical studies annoyed his father so much that papa Darwin sent him to Christ’s College on the road to become an Anglican parson. But rather than steering him away from the natural sciences, Charles found a passion for beetle collecting and met several supporters of Natural Theology. This philosophy is about using reason to understand the nature of God (or the gods) and his/their creations (nature).
- In 1831, at the age of 21, Darwin joined a scientific expedition. It was only meant to last for two years, but in the end it lasted until 1836.
- After some delays, the HMS Beagle embarked from England on December 27. The expedition circumnavigated the globe, and visiting far-off places with diverse ecosystems helped to further Darwin’s theories. He was not the official naturalist on the journey, but maintained a private collection.
- The most well-known part of his journey was his stopover in the Galapagos Islands, but the fossils of extinct giant sloths on the South American mainland did just as much to fuel his new take on evolution theory as the famous finches.
- Important Dates:
- January 6, 1832: The Beagle makes it first stop on Tenerife Island, but the crew is not allowed to disembark because of the fear of cholera.
- January 16, 1832: 23 days in the Cape Verde Islands, off the coast of Senegal, which at the time was a French colony.
- February 28, 1832: All Saints Bay, Salvador, Brazil. Darwin and the Beagle’s captain, Robert FitzRoy, get into a heated argument about abolition after seeing enslaved Africans.
- August 1832: During a survey of the Patagonian coast, Darwin found the fossil remains of huge creature that he could not identify. Experts back in Cambridge found them to be the bones of giant sloths. He also sent several teeth, beetles, and other smaller animals periodically from the expedition.
- December 18, 1832: Darwin has his first encounter with native peoples.
- March 1833: Falkland Islands. This area had only recently come under British control and the Beagle did survey work for the government. Darwin was intrigued by seeing a completely new set of fossils and decided to do comparative studies of all the specimens he had found so far.
- May 1833: Darwin acquires an assistant, Syms Covington. Now that someone else was in charge of stuffing the specimens, Darwin was free to continue his detailed observations.
- November 1833: Darwin spent time on and off the sea for a stretch of a few months and completed overland exploration and fossil collecting. His most compelling discovery was finding the bones of a giant ground sloth that were clearly below a seashell deposit. He was puzzled by how this could be possible, as the movement of the earth’s crust through plate tectonics and the number of times the earth underwent climate change were still unknown to science.
- February 1834: Darwin turns 25, and FitzRoy names the highest peak in the area Mt. Darwin in his honor.
- September 1834: Darwin is ill for several weeks with a fever. He stays at the home of a former classmate in Valapairiso, Chile.
- February 20, 1835: A massive earthquake hits the region where Darwin’s group is studying and after investigating the island of Quiriquina he found that several land masses moved inches or even feet during the quake. This supported the theories of Charles Lyell, whose work was an important point of debate at the Plinian Society.
- July 19, 1835: The Beagle takes on provisions in Lima, Peru, to get ready to cross the Pacific Ocean.
- September 15, 1835: The Galapagos Archipelago is sighted.
- November 15, 1835: The Beagle arrives in Tahiti.
- December 21, 1835: Arrival in New Zealand.
- January 12, 1836: Arrival in Australia.
- February 5, 1836: Arrival in Tasmania.
- April 1, 1836: Arrival in the Cocos Islands, Indian Ocean.
- May 31, 1836: The Beagle sails around the tip of Africa and anchors in Simon’s Bay.
- August 6, 1836: After years at sea, the Beagle finally sets it sights on England.
- October 2, 1836: The ship arrives in Britain and Darwin heads directly for home after four years, nine months and five days.
- Darwin published his first book, widely known as The Voyage of the Beagle, in 1839.
Competing Theories of Evolution
- Transmutation/Transformism: It got its name from clchemy and the attempts to change a base metal into gold. It was first introduced by Jean-Baptiste Lamarck in his book Philosophie Zoologique (1809). In this theory, it was believed that “nervous fluid” drove organisms to greater and greater complexity. The idea that later generations could inherit the traits of their ancestors was also important, but focused more on individual change than any sort of larger, species-wide shifts.
- Eugenics: The word arose in 1883, but the idea of improving the human race through controlling our breeding and research on the topic started much earlier in the 1800s. For instance, the castration of lunatics and criminals in order to keep them from passing on their unsavory traits was advocated for long before Darwin’s theories were published, but it was Darwin’s cousin, Francis Galton, who first coined the phrase. It gained popularity during the early 1900s, but lost favor after it was used by Ernst Rudin to justify the Nazi’s racial politics. Nevertheless, several countries adopted eugenics policies, starting with the United States in the early 1900s and ending with Switzerland in 1975.
- Vestiges of the Natural History of Creation: This book was published anonymously in 1844. It applies the theory of transmutation to all things, including the solar system. It concluded that Caucasian people were the pinnacle of creation, and that God’s direct intervention was not necessary for species to change. Darwin would later regard it as the work that made people open to his theories. Prince Albert is said to have read it to Queen Victoria to get her up to speed with scientific knowledge. After his death in 1871, Scottish publisher Robert Chambers was revealed to be the author.
- On the Origin of Species: Darwin had planned to release his treatise after his death, but he got word from Lyell that another Naturalist, Alfred Russell Wallace, was about to publish similar theories. Wallace was actually the one to accurately describe natural selection, and sent Darwin a short paper on the subject in 1858. Their theories were presented jointly at a Linnean Society meeting but did not receive the attention that was expected. Darwin could not attend due to the death of his young son by scarlet fever. His book was completed and published November of 1859. By the end of the 1860s, most scientists were in agreement that evolution had taken place, but there was no agreement as to the mechanism. The majority still believed that God was behind it, not natural selection.
References in Steampunk Literature
- In The Strange Affair of Spring-heeled Jack (2010) by Mark Hodder, Charles Darwin is the villainous force behind a mysterious plot in an alternate timeline where Queen Victoria was assassinated in 1840. In the world Hodder created, the Technologists and Eugenicists (with Darwin as their leader) are at war.
- In the Leviathan trilogy by Scott Westerfield, Darwin not only discovered the forces behind evolution, but also its building blocks, DNA. In this alternate version of events, The Darwinists use genetics to creating living weapons in their war with the “Clankers,” who use technology.
- If you like graphic novels, you can follow Edgar Allan Poe, Abe Lincoln, and Charles Darwin as three children with incredible destinies who find themselves kidnapped by a dimension-traveling cowboy in Charlie Darwin or the Trine of 1809. Hurried away to meet the Princess of Avalon – they discover just how extraordinary the world really is!
- Many books use references to Darwin as a way to situate their stories in time. For instance, his name is mentioned in The Difference Engine as being among the new privileged class of intellectuals collectively called “savants.”
Even though all three of Casandra Clare’s Infernal Devices books came out between 2009-2013, I didn’t get around to reading the third one until now. This is not to say that I wasn’t excited to find out the conclusion, but I didn’t get a chance to pick it up before I left the English-speaking world for a spell. You can imagine my elation when I found an ample English language section in a local Sofia, Bulgaria bookstore the other day and Clockwork Princess was waiting for me! Even though it comes in at 507 pages, I tore right through it in a couple of days. It is a totally satisfying wrapping-up of the plot lines from the first two books.
The book begins with a confrontation between the London Institute and the giant worm demon that Benedict Lightwood has become due to his affliction with “demon pox.” His sons, Gabriel and Gideon, as well as Will’s shadowhunter-in-training sister, Cecily, accompany Will, Jem and Tessa to the Lightwood estate. In the interim since events of Clockwork Prince came to a close, the Magister and his automaton army seem to have vanished, leaving little for Will to focus on besides the engagement of his best friend, Jem, to the love of his life, Tessa. The battle is a welcome distraction until at the end when Jem collapses due to his long-standing illness.
It turns out he has been taking his drugs far too quickly in an attempt to be worthy of Tessa’s love, and he has burned out his entire year’s supply in a matter of weeks. The Magister has bought up all of the remaining drug in the entire city, leaving the shadowhunters at his mercy if they want Jem to live. Tessa is the key to the Magister’s nefarious plot for domination over the shadowhunters he believed have wronged him, but her actual purpose is still a mystery. On top of the threat from the outside, trouble is also brewing for the head of the London Institute, who didn’t turn out to be as compliant and meek as the Consul believed she would be. Internal politics, passionate romance and the threat of utter annihilation combine into a great climax for a wonderful trilogy.
Clockwork Angel Review (Infernal Devices 1)
Clockwork Prince Review (Infernal Devices 2)
I was born in the 1980s, but a little too late to really remember its pitfalls (like huge hair and shoulder pads) or its triumphs (the advent of the music video, and of course, Steampunk) first hand. Luckily for us, this was a time when tons of weird, wonderful and sometimes experimental television and movies were being made, which captured some of the essence of that era. The 1970s and 80s saw a revival of a film technique that was pioneered by Thomas Edison’s manufacturing company in 1908: clay-animation. You can see their film, A Sculptor’s Nightmare, here.
The very first stop-motion film of all time, which employed moving toys, was made in 1897. Samuel Langhorn Clemens, better known by his pen name, Mark Twain, lived until 1910, so it is entirely possible that he saw the first clay-animation film and probable that he saw earlier stop-motion films as well.
The Adventures of Mark Twain was made in 1985 and is a trippy clay-anmation sojourn through the works of Mark Twain. There is a little bit of biographical information, but mostly it is a chance to showcase his contributions to literature. The viewer is swept away along on an airship adventure along with some of Twain’s best-known characters, Huck Finn, Tom Sawyer and Becky Thatcher. Twain was born near the passage of Halley’s Comet in 1835, and always said he believed he would leave this world again the next time it passed in 1910 (he died the day after it returned), so the film revolves around him trying to keep his “appointment” and visiting some of his greatest works along the way.
Though it may seem morbid that he is racing to his own death, the film is wonderful combination of stunning visuals, abstraction and humor, which totally downplays the seemingly morbid plot line. Though I should warn you that even though this is an animated film, and so you may be thinking it was made for kids, the depiction of “The Mysterious Stranger” is pretty terrifying. Adults would get much more out of this movie than kids, especially if they have read any Twain at all.
- Jules Gabriel Verne was born on Feb. 8, 1828 and died from complications of diabetes on Mar. 24 1905.
- He was on track to become a lawyer when he started writing articles and fiction for magazines, as well as penning plays.
- In the English speaking world he was regarded as a children’s writer during his lifetime, probably because of the popularity of his genre fiction, which was often abridged when translated. Nowadays of course he is considered one of the “fathers of science fiction,” along with H. G. Wells. As far as I could find, the two of them never met in person, which isn’t too surprising consider their age gap (Verne was 38 years old when Wells was born).
- Verne’s imagination was captured by travel and the trope of the “castaway” early in his life. As a child, he had a teacher whose husband had been lost at sea and believed he would some day be found living life like Robinson Crusoe (published 1719). He often stranded his characters on islands during their adventures, such as in In Search of Castaways (1867-1868), The Mysterious Island (1874), and Two Years’ Vacation (1888).
- Verne made lots of famous friends during his lifetime. His close relationship to Alexandre Dumas Jr. and Sr. helped him as a playwright early in his career. He was also a buddy of the noted French explorer and geographer Jacques Arago whose accounts of his travels around the globe helped to lead Verne to his path as a travel writer.
- He fell in love with Honorine de Viane Morel, the sister-in-law of a good friend, in 1856. In order to provide enough financial security to marry her, he went into finance. But there was no way Verne was going to totally abandon his first love, his literary career. He woke early in the morning to write before heading to the office.
- Two years later, at the age of 30, Verne got his first chance to leave France. That year he traveled to the British Isles, and upon returning to Paris he wrote a semi-biographical novel called Backwards to Britain, but it was not published until 1989. In 1861 he visited Sweden, Norway and Denmark and missed the birth of his son, Michel the same year. After he found literary success, he purchased a succession of larger and larger vessels which he used to travel all around Europe.
- Unfortunately traveling became difficult for Verne after an incident in 1886. His nephew, Gaston, suffered from paranoia and shot his uncle in the leg (or foot, depending on the account) and Verne never fully recovered. Luckily for his fans, this did not stop him from continuing to write sometimes two novels a year.
- According to one article I found, there is a lot of evidence the Verne plagiarized large portions his most well-known work, Journey to the Center of the Earth. He was sued by Leon Delmas in 1863, and the court case was not resolved until 1874.
- With the help of Verne’s son, some of his books were published posthumously.
- Several of Verne’s manuscripts and plays were found in a safe 1989, so have only recently seen the light of day. Among these was a novel called Paris in the Twentieth Century, which was initially rejected by Verne’s publisher, Pierre-Jules Hetzel, because of its pessimistic view of the future. The story is set in a dystopian 1960 (97 years after it was written), and predicted the invention of many things that ended up being absolutely correct such as gas-powered cars, fax machines, elevators and sky scrapers.
Verne’s most note-worthy works
I’ve been writing about Verne off and on since I started this website, so I won’t reproduce all of my reviews and info again verbatim.. Here are links to those articles:
The Mysterious Island movies in 2005, 2012 and Journey 2: The Mysterious Island 2012, which actually served as a sequel to the Journey to the Center of the Earth film. I have not yet read the book myself, but plan to some time in the future and will add a link then 🙂
Are you a fan of Jules Verne? What’s your favorite book?
We Steampunk fans enjoy a nice mash-up of literary references like in Alan Moore’s League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, but it takes an exceptional writer to make it all fit together in a coherent narrative. Unfortunately, this sequel to Journey to the Center of the Earth shoe horns this notion between overwrought action and family drama in a pretty unsatisfactory way.
A few years have passed since the events of the first film, and Sean (Josh Hutcherson) has a new stepfather, Hank (Dwayne Johnson). His relationship with the former Navy code breaker is rocky, but when Hank helps Sean decipher a message from his wayward grandfather (Michael Caine) they find some common ground. The message reveals that the island in Verne’s novel is not only real, but is the same island described in Treasure Island and Gulliver’s Travels, and resides somewhere off the coast of the Philippines. (I actually winced when Hank rips the map pages out of the three books in order to fit them into a single island. Have some respect, dude!)
Once they reach Palau, they find that the only people willing to take them to their coordinates (which turn out to be caught in a perpetual hurricane) are a helicopter pilot (Luis Guzman) and his daughter (Vanessa Hudgens). The four of them crash land on a lush island populated by giant insects and Lilliputian pachyderms, and must fend off a dinosaur-scale iguana within minutes of landing. After a brief respite at grandpa’s house, they journey into the jungle past a volcano spouting gold (a reference to the mountain of gold in Treasure Island), see the remnants of the lost city of Atlantis that Verne described in 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, and discover that the island is rapidly sinking once again. Without any means of contacting the outside world during the storm, their only hope is Nemo’s Nautilus, which is still hidden somewhere on the island.
Okay, so you know how I like crappy movies? Even I had some trouble with this one. The action is overblown and basically unending and the dialog was hit and miss. I almost stopped watching the film completely when I got to a scene which centered on “The Rock” popping his pectorals and saying it was the best way to get women. GAG! Also, the “science” didn’t really work. For instance, I am willing to play along with their use of island dwarfism/gigantism, especially as the much-lauded 1961 Mysterious Island features giant critters as well, but if the island is trapped in a perpetual storm and periodically sinks to the depths of the ocean, where did the animals even come from???
It’s pretty much only worth a viewing if you like making snarky comments about what you are watching (which is a regular pastime in the Darqueling household) and can take it all with a grain of salt. Also, the effects are pretty awesome so the visuals are cool. But if you are looking for a good story that has much of anything to do with Verne’s book, skip it.
Journey to the Center of the Earth (2008) Pays Homage to the Original Without Just Retelling the Story
I just went back and counted how many TV and movie reviews I have posted since I started this site. Over the last 18 months I have told you about over 20 different films and shows, and to tell you the truth I didn’t even know there were that many to talk about when I started. Plus, I have a list of another dozen or so that are still forthcoming! With the exception of a few, my reviews have mostly been focused on stories that took place during Victorian times, but there are also films that make references to things from that era that occur at later dates. They may lack the Steampunk aesthetic that we know and love, but I think they deserve a nod for their “punking” of the classics.
The big-budget Journey to the Center of the Earth is one of these films, and should not be confused with the mockbuster by the same name that came out the same year. As a fan of the Mummy movies, there was no way I was going to miss Brendan Fraser in another adventure story. It served as the big screen directorial debut for Eric Brevig, someone whose work you have probably seen without knowing it because he worked on the visual effects for tons of movies such as Wild, Wild West, Men in Black, and several M. Night Shyamalan films. I only just finished reading the book, but as I was doing so I was able to draw a lot of parallels between the text and this contemporary reinterpretation.
The world of this story hinges on one central fact: Verne was writing the truth. According to the story, there is a secret society of learned folks called Vernians who are trying to find their way to the places described in the novels. Brendan Fraser’s character, Trevor Andersen, is not a Vernian but a volcanologist who has devoted his life to the study of volcanic tubes. His brother, Max, was also studying this fringe branch of geology, but he went missing on the path described by Verne leading to the center of the earth.
All that is known to his brother and his son Sean (Josh Hutcherson), is that he disappeared during field research in Iceland, but when an old copy of Journey to the Center of the Earth covered in his cryptic field notes (a direct reference to the discovery of the coded message in the professor’s volume in the novel) is discovered among Max’s belongings, Trevor and Sean rush to his lab to investigate the similarities to his own readings. Upon finding that the equipment placed on Sneffels has come back to life after years of dormancy, the uncle and nephew team head to Iceland to retrieve it.
They enlist a tough as nails mountain guide who recognizes the scribbles in Max’s book as belonging to a Vernian because her own father had also been a believer until his death a few years earlier. They hire her to take them up the mountain to get the scientific instruments, but none of them believe in the reality of the story until a landslide traps them in a cave and they have no choice but to descend into the bowels of the earth in hopes of finding a way out. After a side trip into an old mine and surviving a preposterously long fall down one of the aforementioned volcanic tubes they find themselves on the shore of the same sea recorded in Verne’s story. They attempt to voyage across the sea as their predecessors did, and like them fall prey to sea creatures and a terrible storm to find themselves on a distant shore and in danger from the rapidly rising temperatures in the granite chamber.
Oh yeah, and dinosaurs. Did I forget to mention the dinosaurs?
This is a lighthearted, fun movie that borrows some great parts from the original story, and adds some bits of its own. I remember when it came out it was at the forefront of the “we must make every movie 3D!!!!” phase of film-making which has thankfully calmed down in recent times, and some of the added scenes feel like they were definitely conceived with that in mind rather than say, moving the plot forward. But still, it is enjoyable and a nice way to waste 93 minutes if you’ve got the time. A lot of reviewers I read have nothing nice to say about Josh Hutcherson, but I liked him as the moody teen companion to his stodgy uncle.
I also appreciated that the biggest bad-ass in the group was obviously the female mountain guide, portrayed by native Icelander Anita Briem. She was only really in danger like one time because she was carrying all the heavy stuff and it almost drowned her. She’s the one that gets them through the physical challenges and keeps her cool in face of danger, not unlike her counterpart in the Verne novel.
What do you think? Should movies stick strictly to the original story, or is there room for this kind of interpretive punking?
It’s time to return again to our regularly scheduled Jules Verne programming. It doesn’t look like I will make my original writing goal for this weekend, but I will hopefully get to 10,000 words by the end of the month, so I will keep posting things after my tribute to Verne is over.
Voyage au centre de la Terre is the third Verne novel I have read, and so far it is my favorite. There are multiple translations and the names of the main characters are different depending on which one you read. I read the version where the narrator is called “Harry Lawson” rather than Axel Lidenbrock. According to Project Gutenberg, this 1871 translation is the one that is most widely circulated, but it is also not as true to the original text as the 1877 version. Apparently what I read was somewhat abridged, but was still about 470 pages.
So here’s a very brief synopsis: Harry starts his story by setting the scene of his life with his eccentric uncle, whom is most often referred to as “the professor.” But the story really gets going when the professor discovers a coded message scrawled in an antique text he has just purchased. The former owner was a 16th century alchemist named Saknussem who left behind directions to the finding the exact center of the Earth.
The enthusiastic professor drags the reluctant Harry along for the ride to Iceland, where Saknussem’s tunnel is located. With the help of a taciturn Icelandic hunter, they embark on an incredible journey of discovery into the depths beneath our feet. Along the way they encounter living fossils from bygone ages, a huge subterranean sea and a multitude of other wonders.
There were two main reasons that I liked this book more than 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea and Around the World in 80 Days. First, the first-person narration by Harry was often very humorous, especially when it came to his own misgivings and cowardice. Second, this story was not bogged down by minutiae. There were only a few Latin names dropped in here and there, and because Verne was pulling this place out of his imagination rather than reporting on a real locations, it freed him to be able to drive the action any way he pleased. It would be nice to read a version that has gone through a modern editing process to get rid of the redundancies that so often occur in these old serials. For instance, the phrase “my uncle, the professor” occurs several times, and the Icelander is referred to as “Hans, our guide” almost without fail, as if there would be some other Hans wandering around hundreds of miles below the Earth’s crust. I am sure it helped readers of the original serial over the course of the year it took to read the whole thing, but it does get to be a bit repetitive when reading it as a novel.
The science in this book doesn’t stand the test of time quite as well as others from this period, but for when it was written it was right in the middle of the scholarly debate concerning the origins of life on Earth. In the 1860s, academics had only recently abandoned the straight Biblical interpretation of our origins in light of the discovery of fossil hominids in unexpected strata. There were also distinct schools of thought concerning the nature of the planet itself, the inner workings of which were not fully explained until the theory of plate tectonics was put forth almost a century later.
Perhaps this is the reason, not to mention the enormous sets that would be required, that Journey to the Center of the Earth has only rarely been adapted to film and television compared to Verne’s other works. The first film was made in 1959, but it wasn’t remade in English again until the 2008 re-interpretation which put a contemporary uncle (Brendan Fraser) and nephew (Josh Hutcherson) on the path described in Verne’s novel rather than following the narrative as it occurred in 1864.
In this made-for-TV flick part of the mystery of the island comes from relocating it from off the coast of New Zealand to the Bermuda Triangle. According to the movie, ships regularly disappear from this spot because of a rift in time that sucks in travelers. This allows the story to include not only 17th century pirates and refugees from the American Civil War, but also some ladies from the present. I really enjoyed this twist because it was a chance to call attention to how much has changed in the last century and a half. There are culture clashes even between fellow Americans because of advances in technology and social norms.
Ever since the 1961 version, the trend with movie adaptations of The Mysterious Island seems to be to add some kind of creepy critter to up the ante when it comes to danger and action to what is really a pretty subtle story about a group of castaways. In both the 1961 the 2005 version, all of the animals on the island grew to huge proportions. In this one, in addition to a giant octopus blocking their escape by sea, the island is overrun by apelike creatures who (spoiler alert) turn out to be Nemo’s disenfranchised crew.
The writing had a few holes and the acting was pretty hit or miss, but it was a fun movie all the same. I, of course, like “bad” movies so I will probably put with more than your average movie viewer. You can watch it on Netflix or through youtube below.
This mockbuster was made to piggyback on the major motion picture release the same year of Journey 2: The Mysterious Island, which was a sequel to the big budget Brendan Fraser movie, Journey to the Center of the Earth that came out in 2008. I’ll bring you reviews of those as well, so stay tuned during March for even more Verne and adaptations!
I caught this quirky two-parter for the first time close to when it first aired in 2005. I wasn’t familiar with the Mysterious Island book, but the premise sounded fun and I was familiar with several of the actors. During my research I found several people who say their favorite rendition is from 1961, but I haven’t had a chance to see that one yet. So during March I will bring you reviews of adaptations in 2005 and 2012.
Quick book synopsis: During the American Civil War, five people escape a POW camp in Virginia by stealing a reconnaissance balloon. They end up crash landing on a tiny island off the coast of New Zealand. Their chances of survival seem bleak, especially with bloodthirsty pirates afoot, but thanks to a mysterious benefactor they create a cozy home for themselves. It turns out that their “host” is none other than Captain Nemo, who has retired the Nautilus and now lives with a single servant on the island. (Note- the chronology of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea as it relates to this book is problematic. The American Civil War ended in 1865, but 20,000 Leagues takes place in 1866, which means the war would have been over before the events of The Mysterious Island.)
Now onto the movie. It originally aired on the Hallmark Channel in two, 90-minute parts. This makes it a big commitment for a single evening. In this version, the lead role of the engineer and Union soldier is played by Kyle MacLachlan (Sex in the City, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.), and in place of two of the soldier-types they substitute a comely widow (Gabrielle Anwar) and her teenage daughter. They also decided that building up the mystery surrounding Nemo (Patrick Stewart) wasn’t worth their time, so giant CG animals are added to the mix. The pirates, lead by Vinnie Jones (Snatch, Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels) also get a more central role in the plot.
Though this is technically not a mockbuster because it did not accompany any big-budget release with a similar name, I would file this under that heading in terms of quality. The graphics were probably pretty good 10 years ago when it came out, but look pretty choppy and fake by today’s standards. I actually dug the addition of the monsterous creatures because it added action to what would be a pretty boring film, but my inner geek has to complain for just a second. I am perfectly fine with suspending my disbelief enough to buy into the explanation that the animals got really big because there was radioactive material on the island, I can live with that. But the uber ant was like 20 times bigger than the XL rat. Proportions people! Ok, I am done now.
So, yeah, if you like giant insects and a plot dripping with pirate-itude, then by all means, check this one out (both parts are embedded below). If you are trying to get your hands on a faithful portrayal of Verne’s vision, maybe try to find the 1961 version instead.
Even if people aren’t a fan of science fiction, chances are they have heard of this book or seen the 1954 Disney movie version. If you read my review of Around the World in 80 Days, you know I am only lukewarm on Jules Verne’s writing style, but I’ve read a few different Steampunk books that use Captain Nemo as a character, so I wanted to go back to the original source to learn a bit more.
It all begins with the mysterious disappearances of various vessels in 1866. Many believe a giant sea creature is behind the attacks, and the narrator, a French marine biologist named Pierre Aronnax, is enlisted to aid in the search while visiting New York. He departs from the United States along with his faithful manservant, Conseil, and together they join a team of explorers including a Canadian harpooner named Ned Land. Shortly after setting out, the intrepid team encounters the creature, only to find it is in fact an incredibly advance submarine captained by one of the most famous figures in all of Steampunk literature, Captain Nemo. The rest of the story details the journey of Aronnax, Conseil and Land as they criss-cross the globe as Nemo’s prisoners.
20,000 Leagues Under the Sea was incredibly well-researched. I used to work at an aquarium, so I probably was able to get a bit more out of it than the average reader, because the narrator, Aronnax, goes into exhaustive detail about the different marine animals he encounters while traveling the seven seas with Nemo. I would like to read it again some day, but this time I would make sure to find an illustrated version. When the story was originally published as a serial in Magasin d’Éducation et de Récréation from 1869-1870 it did not include any illustrations, but since it was compiled as a novel a few years later there have been several illustrated and even a graphic novel version of the tale.
But, this meticulous detail can also be a drag. The Mister and I read this one out loud as we often do with the books I review, and even though I have my science background and he is a Roman historian, we both stumbled over the multitude of Latin names. Though of course it makes sense to use the proper scientific names of species, both for clarity and because the narrator is a marine biologist, it can make the actual reading a bit tedious. We were about halfway through when my brain was just begging for a giant squid to attack. This bit of action comes very late in the book, and gets a lot more attention in movie adaptations than Verne gave it in the text.
Unlike Around the World in 80 Days, where the indefatigable Passepartout can offer a respite from the monotony of travel, there is no comedic relief in 20,000 Leagues. Nemo is an interesting and enigmatic character to be sure, but I think overall it makes for pretty dry reading. The science in this book is sound, so it holds up to time better than Journey to the Center of the Earth, but for me it wasn’t really entertaining enough for the slog through over 300 pages.
Jules Verne died in March of 1905, so to commemorate his many contributions to the science fiction canon that have inspired myriad interpretations within Steampunk, I am devoting all of March to Verne-themed books, movies, artwork and characters.
Here are few things to look forward to this month:
Steampunk Sourcebooks for Around the World in 80 Days and Jules Verne himself
Reviews of two adaptations of The Mysterious Island
Unveiling a brand new 3D paper illustration by yours truly
Book reviews of two classic Verne tales
But there is still space in my editorial calendar for a few more things, so feel free to make suggestions! Have you ever dressed as a character from a Verne novel and you’ve got a photo you want to see on my blog? Do you know some fun facts you think others would enjoy? Let me know : )
The accidental theme for me during the first week of February ended up being trippy animated Steampunk flicks. I’ll tell you all about The Adventures of Mark Twain another time, but if you are looking for something a little bit different from your average romantic schlock-fest to help you celebrate Valentine’s Day, this is the movie for you.
First of all, it is French, and in my experience French films are often both interesting and disturbing. In the spirit of The City of Lost Children it is as surreal as it is beautiful, and don’t worry, there are versions in several languages including English. It is also a musical which is based on a concept album by Dionysos and an illustrated novel created by the lead singer, Matthias Malzieu. The French iterations go by the title Jack et la mécanique du cœur (2013), which translates to “Jack and the Mechanics of the Heart”, which is a much stronger title in my opinion. Like the title, some of the lyrics in the English version come out sounding a bit funny due to the translating, but I am sure it all rhymed in French. The artwork is inspired by the work of Tim Burton, which gives the setting and the story a dark and Gothic feel that adds to the Steampunkishness.
This twisted tale is set in the 19th century and starts in Edinburgh. Jack’s mother struggles through a storm on the coldest night of the year to get to the midwife in time to deliver. Unfortunately, the frigid night has frozen Jack’s heart solid, and it is only through the ingenuity of the midwife who replaces his living heart with a clock that he survives. His mother abandons the infant in the night, and the midwife finally has the child she has been longing for. But, his mechanical heart makes him vulnerable to the strains of the outside world, and his adoptive mother fears for his safety in the face of fear, angry, and especially falling in love.
When Jack is 10, he convinces her to let him go into town and it is love at first listen when he meets a girl working as a street performer. In hopes of seeing her again, he begs to be allowed to go to school where he falls victim to the school’s chap hopping bully. (“chap hop” is a musical style that combines hip hop with being gentlemanly, first done by Professor Elemental). Jack endures years of torture before he finally flees to Spain where his love has moved to in the interim and strives to win her heart, even at the expense of his own.
Gail Carriger asks and answers an interesting question in her Parasol Protectorate series: “What if the supernatural was integrated into every day life?” Against the backdrop of Victorian London, the acerbic “spinster”, Alexia Tarrabotti, finds herself in a world that has done just that. Vampires and werewolves have been accepted into society, with some even acting as agents and advisers to the crown.
The supernatural set all have an overabundance of “soul” which allows them to survive the transition to immortal. Alexia, on the other hand, was born without any “soul” at all, which means her touch mitigates the abilities of others. When science meets the supernatural, Alexia finds herself in the middle of scheme to understand the inner workings of the soul, and how to use this knowledge to wipe out the immortals, including her werewolf paramour, forever.
This was a very fun book and I would definitely recommend it. Alexia’s inner monologue made me giggle, especially as she tries to navigate her relationship with the werewolf Alpha. To borrow a phrase from The Princess Bride, this is definitely “a kissing book,” so if you aren’t looking for romance in your Steampunk you might want to steer clear. That being said, I thought the dialog was intelligent and witty, and the world that Carriger creates is extremely entertaining. Starting in 2012, Soulless was also adapted as a graphic novel with artwork by Rem.
I will definitely be picking up Book 2, Changeless.
Have you read any of the Parasol Protectorate books? What did you think?
As an artist I am always on the lookout for public domain images that I can use in my artwork. As I was looking around for some botanical illustrations, I stumbled upon a delightful site devoted to posting and blogging about these kinds of images. Here’s a series of gems from an article called “The Future Dictates of Fashion,” by W. Cade Gall, and appeared in The Strand in 1893. The author claims to have found a book that is from 1993 and gives a “history of fashion” for the century to come. Time-traveling books?! You can’t get much more Steampunk than that!
Sometimes, Steampunk books are serious challenges to the ideals of the Victorian age and tread on the dark side, and other times they are silly fun. Letters Between Gentleman, by award-winning “chap hop” artist Professor Elemental and accomplished author Nimue Brown, is most definitely the latter.
As implied by the title, this book is presented as correspondence between the mad genius, Professor Elemental, and his hapless benefactor. The sister of said benefactor is concerned for her brother’s welfare in light of the string of accidental deaths at the hands (mechanical, animal or some combination of the two) of the Professor’s creations. So she hires a private detective, Algernon Spoon, to look into their association. The book is also populated with the Professor’s “Notes to self” on a range of topics including the best way to preserve beheaded badgers and his on-going battle with the mice he trained to take dictation.
The format left a little to be desired, but on the whole I really enjoyed reading this book. I regularly laughed out loud at throughout at the crazy inventions, cease and desist letters from would-be clients and humorously exaggerated gender norms. Some books carry their readers along on a tide of action, but I kept on reading this one because it was purely entertaining.
Letters came out in September of 2014 and is available now as an ebook or hardcover.
If you aren’t familiar with the Professor’s music videos, check out the animated piece featured on Disney’s Phineas and Ferb below, or watch any of several posted on his website.
Jack the Ripper is the world’s most famous serial killer, both because of the brutality of the murders and the fact that the crimes are still unsolved. I have seen many Steampunk works make reference to the Whitechapel Murders as a means of situating their stories in time, as well as Jack appearing as a character in movies and books. But with so many interpretations floating around, it can be hard to keep the facts straight, so here is a cheat sheet to help you get it right.(I went on a Jack the Ripper tour while I was in London for my Steam Tour research and you can read about it here.)
- In 1888 there were a string of murders in the Whitechapel District of London. Due to the similarities between the victims, modus of the murders, and the proximity of the crimes they were attributed to the same killer. There are five women who are generally accepted as victims of the same serial killer, but there easily could have been more murders that were never discovered, or there could have been more than one murderer.
- Murder #1: Mary Ann Nichols, killed sometime between 2:30 and 3:30 a.m. on August 30, 1888. She was an alcoholic, which led to her separation from her husband in 1882 and her inability to keep any other job than prostitute. Her throat was cut and her abdomen was mutilated.
- Murder #2: Annie “Dark Annie” Chapman, killed at approximately 5:30 a.m. on September 8, 1888. After the death of one of her children by meningitis, she and her husband both became heavy drinkers and separated in 1884. Her husband was required by law to provide for her welfare, but he died in 1886 from alcohol poisoning. She tried to support herself through crocheting and selling flowers, but was also involved in prostitution.
- Murder #3: Elizabeth “Long Liz” Stride, killed sometime between 12:35 and 1:00 a.m. on September 30, 1888. Her throat was cut and her abdomen was mutilated. The postmortem doctor identified the weapon as a thin knife blade, approximately 6-8 inches in length. Like the other victims she and her husband separated, but she was a prostitute before and after her marriage fell apart. She spoke Yiddish and Swedish in addition to English.
- Murder #4: Catherine Eddowes (aka Kate Conway and Kate Kelly), killed a few hours after Elizabeth Stride on September 30, 1888. She left her first common-law husband, Thomas Conway, and her three children in 1880. Later, she took up with John Kelly and they lived together in a lodging house on Flower Street. The night of her death she was arrested for drunkenness and held at the Bishopsgate police station until approximately 1:30 a.m. Within minutes she was killed on her way home. Her face and her abdomen were mutilated, and a piece of her ear as well as her kidney was taken by the killer.
- Murder #5: Mary Jane “Fair Emma” Kelly (aka “Ginger” and “Black Mary”) was killed November 9, 1888. It is believed that the increase in police patrols accounts for the lag between the deaths of Eddowes and Kelly. Her origin is less well-documented than the other victims, but sources say she was the widow of a coal miner with the surname Davies who died in an explosion around 1881. Like the other victims, she was a drinker and reportedly sang Irish songs while enjoying her gin, so it is believed she hailed from Ireland. Unlike the other victims, she was found murdered in her home around 10:45 a.m. and the time of death was set at between 6 and 8 a.m. that morning. Her body was extensively mutilated, the coroner believed the murderer took more than two hours to complete his task.
- During press coverage, the killer was most often referred to as “The Whitechapel Murderer” or “Leather Apron” because of the aprons worn by butchers. The name “Jack” became connected to the murders after letters began to arrive at news outlets and signed by that name.
- The five canonized Ripper killings occurred between August and November of 1888, but police continued to investigate a total of 11 murders that they suspected were linked up until 1891.
- Historians and hobbyists alike have speculated over the identity of The Ripper, and some sources say as many as 500 different people (including at least one woman) have come under suspicion. Many of these people were not suspects during the actual investigation and that is far too many to talk about here to I will only highlight the most well-known and/or plausible.
- According to some, Jack’s identity was already discovered in 2014—or was it? A silk shawl that supposedly belonged to one of the victims underwent DNA testing starting in 2007. In 2014, a book by Russell Edwards detailed the findings of scientist Jari Louhelainen, who claims to have definitive evidence that identifies Aaron Kominski as the notorious murderer. Kominski came under suspicion in 1888 at the age of 23 and died in a mental institution 30 years later. Unfortunately, Louhelainen made at least two major errors in his analysis that were brought to light in October 2014, rendering the conclusions useless. The search continues.
- Others think that the Jack the Ripper conspiracy went all the way to the highest levels of government. Spoiler alert! In the 2001 Johnny Depp flick called “From Hell,” Jack is in fact Prince Edward “Eddy” Victor, aka “grandson” to queen Victoria. According to the theory, Eddy impregnated a low-class girl (and a Catholic no less!) and to avoid the scandal, the queen ordered the matter be “taken care of.” Annie Crook and her royal offspring are spirited away by the royal physician, John Gull, but her friends like Mary Kelly are making too much noise about the disappearance and must be silenced. The serial killer who hates prostitutes is created to cover the real scandal and claims many victims.
- Others actually suspect John Gull himself as the murderer because of the precision of the cuts made to the victims and the fact that Jack was never caught points to some kind of conspiracy in the minds of many enthusiasts.
- One of the more likely suspects is Seweryn Klosowski (aka George Chapman), a Polish-born Jew who had only been in Whitechapel a short time before the murders began. In 1903 he was convicted on three counts of murder and hanged for killing his wives. This would seem to make him a very good suspect indeed, but he killed his known victims with poison, not brutality, and serial murderers rarely change their modus operandi.
- John Pizer was arrested in 1888 for the murders, but was later let go because he had alibis (including talking to a policeman) during two of the five canonical murders. The Sergeant who arrested him, William Thicke, allegedly had personal animosity against Pizer and no evidence whatsoever. Pizer sought reparations from at least one of the news outlets that reported he was the murderer. Thicke was later accused as being The Ripper in a letter sent to The Home Office, but this was likely a hoax and was never followed up on by the authorities.
- Gotham by Gaslight (1989) pits Jack against Batman in Gotham City.
- In the Steampunk Chronicles series by Kady Cross, Jack is a character.
- Ripper (2012), by Stefan Petrucha, follows the quest of young man from New York City to find his father in London, but instead finds himself in the middle of a murder investigation.
- Ripper (2012), by Amy Carol Reeves, is about a young woman who is volunteering at a Whitechapel hospital and has visions of the Ripper’s murders before they happen.
- “Ripper Street” is a BBC show about rebuilding Whitechapel in the wake of the Ripper killings. It began in 2012 and the third season is airing as of now (January 2015). (Review coming soon!)
- “Time After Time” (1979) Jack the Ripper uses H. G. Wells time machine to escape his own time and is pursued by Wells to San Francisco, CA.
- “From Hell” (2001) Johnny Depp and Heather Graham star in this film that takes its name from one of the famous Ripper letters that were sent to the press.
- “Progress” is a webseries that operates in an alternative Victorian London where there is already a steam-powered internet. You can watch the first three episodes for free at progresstheseries.com.
- A game for Xbox 360 and Microsoft Windows entitled “Sherlock Holmes vs. Jack the Ripper” was released in 2009.
Did I miss and Ripper references, books or movies you know? Please leave a comment so I can add to my list!
I ran across this one in a second-hand store months ago, but I hadn’t had the chance yet to read. Whitechapel Gods was always pulling at me from the bookshelf (I think it was those smoldering eyes on the cover), and I finally had time to oblige over the holidays. A six-hour round trip bus ride gave me plenty of time to consume and digest this very colorful creation by S. M. Peters.
But when I say “colorful” please do not picture a rainbow. This is a dark tale of humankind caught in the middle of a millennia-old struggle between beings of great power who use their influence to wage a battle of head versus heart, logic versus love. The world is a very different place, and people are turning into machines either by choice (the “crows”) or by infection by a baffling disease that changes your internal organs into gears and sprockets. The author paints a vivid and often disturbing picture what is going on behind the scenes of an alternative Whitechapel during Victoria’s reign. No seriously, if you have a developed imagination but not a strong stomach, I would think twice about reading it. I will just say that the word “pus” appears several times, and leave it at that.
Even though there is definitely Steampunk technology to offer, this book dwells strongly in the metaphysical. It is an intriguing mix of science fiction and philosophy, with many of the battles occurring in the realm of the imagination and not on the Whitechapel streets, though there is a fair amount of that going on as well. The protagonists were well-developed and multifaceted which led to some interesting twists in the plot. I felt the ending was a bit too tidy, though that may not be the best choice of word considering very few of the characters make it to the end, but it was satisfying.
I would definitely recommend this book to a mature reader, especially someone who is looking for something a little more toothsome than the whimsical tales often found in this genre.
Jeff VanderMeer is a heavy-hitter on the Steampunk book scene, and, along with co-author Desirina Boskovich, he released a new book in October entitled The Steampunk User’s Manual: An Illustrated Practical and Whimsical Guide to Creating Retro-futurist Dreams.
“Steampunk, the retro-futuristic cultural movement, has become a substantial and permanent genre in the worlds of fantasy and science fiction. A large part of its appeal is that, at its core, Steampunk is about doing it yourself: building on the past while also innovating and creating something original. VanderMeer’s latest book offers practical and inspirational guidance for readers to find their individual path into this realm. Including sections on art, fashion, architecture, crafts, music, performance, and storytelling, The Steampunk User’s Manual provides a conceptual how-to guide that motivates and awes both the armchair enthusiast and the committed creator. Examples range from the utterly doable to the completely over-the-top, encouraging participation and imagination at all levels.” (From the Amazon page)
I have a copy of his Steampunk Bible, but along with several other volumes it had to be left behind in the US when I moved to Europe for the year. Luckily, I have family visiting in the Spring who will bring it to me, and maybe if I ask Santa really nicely he will leave the User’s Manual in my stocking this year.
Have you read anything by VanderMeer? Please share your thoughts below!
Sherlock Holmes is Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s most famous character, but definitely not his only one. I have noticed that some of the newer renditions of Mr. Holmes show him as, at best, suffering from Asberger’s syndrome, and at worst, a monumental jerk. If you have read Conan Doyle’s books, you would know that this is not actually consistent with Sherlock’s character, but it is spot on for the (sometimes) hero of The Lost World, Professor Challenger.
Challenger, like Holmes, is a genius, but he doesn’t spend his time hanging out in London. He is an adventurer, a trail-blazer and a scientist extraordinaire (and doesn’t he know it!) who will use his intellect to thwart his academic enemies, and his fists to back up his intellect. I thoroughly enjoyed his turns of phrase and clever barbs throughout The Lost World even more than the premise of the story itself, and he was a great foil for the young and inexperienced narrator.
Like Jules Verne’s Journey to the Center of the Earth, Conan Doyle explores the prospect of a place that time has left behind. When Challenger’s assertions of its existence are called into question, the National Geographical Society mounts an expedition to investigate his claims that there is a plateau in South America where dinosaurs still roam the earth. And not just dinosaurs! There are all kinds of blasts from the past that have wandered to the secluded spot over the years, some of them remaining unchanged and some of them evolving along a whole new line.
I thoroughly enjoyed this book. This is another one that the Mister and I read out loud together and that was a great way to experience it. The dialog between Challenger and his rival scientist, Summerlee, is fantastic, and there were many times I laughed out loud. I also know just enough biology to appreciate the rival points of view and interaction of species. I can’t wait to read the next Professor Challenger title, The Poison Belt.
Have you ever read any Professor Challenger stories? What did you think?
Maybe witches aren’t your thing, so you won’t be seeing Hansel and Gretel as part of your Steampunk Halloween. But everyone likes vampires, right? In 2010, author Seth Grahame-Smith penned an alternate history featuring America’s favorite president and pitted him against the forces of darkness running rampant in the South. It was made into an insanely good action movie in 2012 and it is another awesome choice for any steam-inspired monster movie marathon.
Abe’s (Benjamin Walker) sojourn into the vampiric underworld starts when he is a child, though he doesn’t know it. His mother falls victim to a mysterious disease as a result of his father standing up to the unfair treatment of free black people under his boss, Jack Barts (Marton Csokas). Even as a child he knows that Barts is somehow behind his mother’s death, and once he is grown he tries to take his revenge. To his shock, his bullets have no affect on Barts and Abe has to be rescued by a stranger whom he just met in the bar. The man calls himself Henry (Dominic Cooper) and tells Lincoln about how vampires escaped persecution in Europe to the American South, where they are deeply involved in the slave trade as their source of food.
Abe is only interested in his own vendetta, but agrees to be a vampire hunter under Henry’s guidance in order to gain the skills he needs to finally take down Barts. After hunting a series of vampires one by one, Lincoln decides he can make a much bigger difference in the world as a politician than by wielding his special silver-bladed axe, and his life takes the shape of the history we know for a while, including his marriage to Mary Todd (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), presidential election and the outbreak of the Civil War. But when the Southern politicians ally themselves with the vampires, the unkillable soldiers start to tip the scales towards a Southern victory, and Abe must confront them and the mastermind of their ascent to power (Rufus Sewell).
Whether or not you know anything about the real Abraham Lincoln, this is a really fun and entertaining film. The effects are very special, the lighting and camera work are Gothic and moody and the action scenes are dynamic and sometimes even breath-taking. This was a much better film than I expected just based on the premise, and as it turns out the author did a great job of integrating vampire lore into the politics of the mid-19th century and documented historical events. Plus, it is a great action film. There is a fight scene that takes place during a stampede of horses, and a struggle on a speeding train that will keep you on the edge of your seat. It does not have the same ratio of dark comedy to action as Van Helsing or Brothers Grimm, but there are still some good lines and ironic twists that will make you smile. I haven’t read the book, but I really enjoyed this movie and I will definitely be re-watching it to bring some “spook” to my “steam” again this year.
In my last movie post about an awesome…ly bad Sherlock Holmes flick I introduced the idea of a mockbuster. I think Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters may actually deserve to crowned as mockbuster royalty. I found not one, or two, but three other films that came out during 2012-2013 that have something to do, however loosely, with the Grimm’s fairy tale. I watched the trailers for Hansel and Gretel: Warriors of Witchcraft (starring real life brother and sister, wait for it, Fivel and Booboo Stewart), Hansel & Gretel (a nasty-looking horror flick by Asylum Pictures) and Hansel & Gretel Get Baked (a half comedy-half horror stoner parody) and none of them are the least bit Steampunk, so accept no substitutions.
Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters stars Gemma Arterton (Quantum of Solace, Clash of the Titans) and Jeremy Renner (The Avengers, The Bourne Legacy), as well as one of my favorite character actors, Peter Stormare (Brothers Grimm). The original story was published in 1812, but with the delightful mish-mash of technology in this movie it is hard to place it in time.
In the Grimm’s fairy tale Hansel and Gretel’s evil stepmother convinces their father to abandon them in the woods because there isn’t enough food to go around. They find their way back once by leaving a trail of pebbles, but the second time their breadcrumb trail is eaten by birds and they end up at a house made of candy. They defeat the witchy homeowner and when they find their way back to their own dwelling the wicked stepmom has died of unknown causes. Luckily, the kids found gems at the witches’ abode so their money problems are over, and it ends happily ever after (except for the witch and the stepmother, of course).
In the 2013 movie’s version of events, the kids are left in the forest by their parents for an unknown reason, and they still defeat their “hostess of the grossest” but the story doesn’t end there. They discover during their struggle they should “1. never go into a house made of candy and 2. if you are going to kill a witch, set her ass on fire,” but also that they are immune to witch’s spells. They go on to become professional witch hunters and are called to the town of Augsburg to investigate a spate of disappearances. It turns out the local witches are a-brewing a plot to make themselves immune to fire, and they need 12 kids as well as another secret ingredient to do it. In order to find out what really happened to their parents, the siblings must face the Grand Witch Muriel (Famke Janssen) and defeat her before she can carry out her dastardly plot.
In my head I put this movie into the same dark-but-fun category as Van Helsing and Brothers Grimm, but it definitely has a higher gore-factor and earns its R-rating for violence. So if you are squeamish when it comes to blood, you might want to give this one a pass. Of course, that is part of what makes it a perfect movie for your Halloween fright fest 🙂